ISRAEL’S BAPTISM OF FIRE
Increasingly, Folau’s religious beliefs are front and centre as career of gifted footballer takes back seat
The Waratahs’ giant South African lock, Le Roux Roets, paid a visit to Israel Folau’s family home at Kenthurst last weekend. It wasn’t to talk tactics or discuss opponents. Roets was there to be baptised in the chlorinated backyard pool. Folau and his father Eni have set up The Truth of Jesus Christ with the congregation often gathering on the family’s back porch to watch new members being immersed in the water.
This is life for Folau now as his football career takes an increasingly back seat to a devotion to his religion that has turned fundamentalist — taking the strict, literal interpretation of scriptures.
He delivers the “youth sermons” often. He is #TeamJesus. But his views about homosexuality look likely to cost him the career that has made him a household name and millions of dollars.
Folau’s Instagram post, which could trigger the end of his incredible football career, stated that “hell awaits” drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters.
What has transpired since Folau uploaded the Instagram post shows a clear insight as to where the footballer is at — which is firmly on his “Lord Jesus Christ’s” side.
“Israel has changed, people change, this is bigger than sport now,” said a source who knows Folau well.
Over the past few days, as controversy has raged around Folau, he defiantly said he has “no regrets”.
Folau didn’t return Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle’s calls on Wednesday night when he first posted his hellish-themed message. He didn’t return them on Thursday, either.
His attitude also showed when RA sent welfare people over to his house to talk to him and, although
inside, Folau didn’t open the door.
By Friday, Castle had managed to secure a meeting with Folau. It was brief.
It is understood Folau did not back down from his views and did not apologise.
A source said Castle’s leadership has been clear, swift, strong and balanced in contrast to the last Folau incident a year ago when he stated that homosexuals would go to “HELL”.
The RA chief executive has been in constant contact with Folau’s manager Isaac Moses from the moment she became aware of the post on Wednesday night, even though the Wallaby didn’t bother to return her calls.
RA’s joint statement with the NSWRU was strong and drilled home that Folau had “failed to understand that the expectation of him as a Rugby Australia and NSW Waratahs employee” and that he can’t share “material on social media that condemns, vilifies or discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality”.
RA has said its intention is to “terminate” his contract and it could be an abrupt end to a stunning career that has seen him play professional football in three codes, representing the Kangaroos and the Wallabies as well as a dalliance with the AFL’s GWS Giants. Folau continues to defiantly fight for his $4 million-plus football career.
A year ago, after Folau’s first “gays will go to hell incident’’, there were also about half a dozen NRL clubs circling Folau’s management ready to sign him, regardless of his views, if RA was to sever ties.
It wasn’t the same this time. On Thursday, ARL Commission chairman Peter Beattie made it clear Folau wouldn’t be welcome in rugby league.
“Israel Folau fails the NRL’s inclusiveness culture, which is a policy strongly supported by the ARLC,” Beattie said in a statement.
This is the way it is these days. Folau wouldn’t be welcome in any other football code he has played because of his views.
Prominent gay athletes have spoken about the harm caused and pain inflicted when high-profile celebrities espouse extreme views.
“It’s this kind of ignorance that contributes to the disproportionately high rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among young LGBTI people,” wrote the openly gay Australian rules footballer Jason Ball.
“Words matter. They have the power to lift us up but they also have the power to cause enormous damage.”
It’s the truth. It ostracises already marginalised young people.
The events of last week and the past few months have demonstrated that amazing footballers can no longer get by on just talent. Their flaws, bad behaviour, are no longer ignored or tolerated. There is a new standard expected of our sports stars and sporting leaders.
On a purely business level, in an age of billion-dollar TV rights deals, sponsors pouring in millions of dollars into codes, employers are expecting their employees to behave sensibly with decency and inclusiveness.
It shouldn’t be that hard? Should it? Because, in instances such as Folau’s, there are vulnerable young lives at risk.
FROM the start, Folau’s devotion has always been to his family and religion.
More than 10 years ago, I interviewed a 19-year-old Folau on Coogee Beach. He was on the cusp of moving back to Brisbane (from the Storm) to be close to his family.
He signed a reported $1.6 million contract over four years and, as always, he gave his parents nearly all of his wage.
“I’m not really fazed by how much money I get,” Folau said then.
As for religion, the Folaus were devout Mormons before switching to Assemblies of God in 2011.
Eleven years after that interview, married now to netballer Maria, his devotion is still to family and they are all devoted to their The Truth of Jesus Christ Church in Kenthurst.
Waratahs player Le Roux Roets is baptised in the Folau family’s backyard pool and (right) Israel Folau. Pictures: Getty Images